Skip to main content
The Super Bowl and Heart Attacks, is it Really a Thing?

You are listening to Health Library:

The Super Bowl and Heart Attacks, is it Really a Thing?

Feb 09, 2022

Every year around this time you see the posts about how the number of heart attacks increase on Super Bowl Sunday. Is that legit or just a good story to pass around on social media? We asked cardiologist Dr. John Ryan if it’s for real.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: The Super Bowl and heart attacks: is there really a risk? We are going to find out from cardiologist Dr. John Ryan, next on The Scope.

Dr. Ryan, I've seen news stories, I'm sure our listeners have seen news stories, I even did a Google search because the thought of somebody having a heart attack during the Super Bowl seems kind of crazy to me. Really, does this happen? Is it a common thing or a rare thing? But there's some research out there that says that it really is possible. Is that true?

Dr. Ryan: Yeah, so it is a recognized risk, namely that's the Super Bowl and this has been shown in several studies the time of the Super Bowl is a high-risk time for heart attacks or a higher risk time for heart attacks. It's also been shown in the World Cup, in the soccer World Cup, there has also been shown that there is a higher risk of heart attacks around this time. It seems, in particular, in cities hosting the Super Bowl and in the cities whose teams are playing in the Super Bowl it seems to be higher. So when there's an investment in the game, it does seem to be higher as opposed to other cities that either aren't hosting or don't actually actively have a team in the Super Bowl. And this is, again, the same with the World Cup.

However, when you look at the people who have heart attacks during the Super Bowl, they're already at higher risk of having heart attacks. So they are typically folks who have high blood pressure, maybe a history of heart disease, a history of smoking, a history of high cholesterol, and then the stress and circumstances surrounding the Super Bowl event can be a trigger towards that cardiac event.

Interviewer: So if you've been told by your doctor that you are at a high risk of a heart attack and your lifestyle kind of reflects that, would it be the equivalent of going out and trying to run a marathon?

Dr. Ryan: Yeah. That's a good analogy, yeah, that's a good analogy.

Interviewer: Because I don't think that people watching the Super Bowl and having some wings and beer would be like running a long-distance race.

Dr. Ryan: Yeah, that's a good analogy. Again, it's all about you're introducing more stress onto your cardiovascular system and into your life and what are the consequences of that stress. One of those consequences of that stress is an increased risk of having a heart attack. So, a lot of times, it's just about stress management and how you deal with stress as well as you've rightly pointed out, it's risk factor modification.

When you look at heart disease in general, it's all about risk factor modification, eating better, not smoking, not drinking as much alcohol, and not getting dehydrated. And these are all things that happen in or around the time of Super Bowl or college game day or workups. When folks bring this up, I talk about my father, during Ireland rugby games, will sit outside in the garden and then when the game is over, he will come in and ask what the result of the game was. And that's his way of modifying his risk. So it's a matter of modifying your risk. Thanks, Dad.

Interviewer: And, as a result, he's been there for you all these years.

Dr. Ryan: Exactly. Exactly.

Interviewer: So if you're worried that you're going to have a heart attack leading into the Super Bowl, you probably need to take a bigger look at . . .

Dr. Ryan: Figure out your coping mechanisms, figure out your stress, what you do for stress and what you're doing for your risk factor modification with your heart disease.

updated: February 9, 2022
originally published: February 3, 2016